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South Lyon East finds just enough offensive flow for third-quarter run, holding off Brighton for district win

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, March 9, 2020, 10:18 pm

BRIGHTON — They call the playoffs “the second season,” but for South Lyon East, it sort of feels like the start of a whole new season, what with all the roster churn they’ve had in recent weeks, robbing them of any offensive cohesion.

Fortunately for the Cougars, they got just enough offensive spark from a 10-0 third-quarter run to pull away from Brighton in Monday’s district first-round game, and hold on for a 60-54 win.

“That run in the third was big enough that it got us up 11, 12, where we still had some issues down the stretch in the fourth, but it was a big enough lead we still had some cushion,” said East coach Ron Levin, whose team got a pair of exclamation-point, alley-oop dunks from its big man, 6-foot-8 Nicholas Branton to close it out late.

“In the past, when we’ve had the lead like that, we’ve gone too passive, and just played keep-away, and never got the layups. And it hurt us down the stretch. So it was nice to get those layups, keep bumping it back up to eight, to 10. Make them keep scoring.”

The Cougars (14-7) advance to Wednesday’s district semifinals, where they’ll cross-town rival South Lyon (10-10) in the nightcap at 7 p.m. Ann Arbor Skyline (15-6), a 48-42 winner over Pinckney (13-8) in Monday’s early first-round game, will face Dexter (13-7) in Wednesday’s early semifinal at 5 p.m. 

Sort of like the start of a new season, the Cougars are trying to re-establish their offensive flow. 

At one point, the Cougars were 12-3, but a 41-40 overtime loss to Walled Lake Northern on Feb. 21 began a four-game slide that saw them go from in the mix for second in the Lakes Valley Conference to tied for third with Northern. 

“The last couple of weeks, we’ve had guys out with injuries, sickness. We’ve had guys in and out, and we seem to lose our offensive momentum. We’re kind of struggling, so we’re trying to kind of pick the pace up, and get out in transition and get some easy buckets, force some turnovers,” Levin said.

“We’ve got kids that can put the ball in the basket. We just gotta get out and run a little more.”

Bryce Bird scored all 10 of his points in a second-quarter spurt that allowed East to lead 31-28 at the break, but his teammates began to pick up the scoring in the third.

Alexander Desentz and Adam Jagacki both hit 3-pointers, as East stretched the lead from 35-34 to double digits, pushing it to 45-34 on Branton’s short jumper with 2:14 left in the quarter. 

Branton had 13 points total, while Jagacki’s 14 off the bench led the Cougars. 

“Huge minutes. He’s been kind of an X-factor all year,” Levin said of the sophomore. “He just has a knack for the ball, gets it in the bucket. Sometimes, it looks  unconventional. Sometimes, I’m saying ‘What are you doing?’ Today, those times ended in points.”

With the Bulldogs putting full-court pressure on the Cougars in the final three minutes of the game, Branton got dunks on the break off lobs from both Bird and Drake Willenborg, one with 2:30 left, and another 48 seconds of game time later to make it 47-45. 

Brighton’s Jacob Edwards hit three of his four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, as the Bulldogs tried to cut into the lead, finishing with a game-high 16 points. Dallas Armstrong had 13 points for Brighton, as well.